Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Dangerous toilets

TOP del.icio.us

I’d like to walk you through one day at a rural school mainly with the intention to explore that place we all use, the toilet.

Upon arrival at the school what welcomes you is the mixture of colours of clothes that children are wearing. A good percentage of the children have never afforded a uniform possibly since their first year into school. Step closer and you will discover that almost all children are bare foot. It used to be the trend that the few children who put on a pair of shoes would be children of teachers who unquestionably belonged to a different social class. But now when teachers are so lowly paid their children appear as good as any other.

The Blair toilets are so dirty that children tip toe as they enter in an effort to avoid the mess on the floor. In the boys’ section it is as if water is continuously being poured on the floor for the whole day, it is never dry. It is not unusual to see big white worms making their way out through the entrance or to see some lying dead as one or two kids will have taken the courage to step over them.

At the end of the day the children struggle to carry water from the bore hole or some river kilometers away to clean the toilets and this is when the broom guy whom they sarcastically call the “Matenyera” has to make as though he has no nose because it is his job to clean the mess close up. If one imagines that these toilets are shared with little grade zeros and ones who usually have more experience in using the bush than a toilet, then maybe you get to comprehend how dirty the toilets will be by end of the day.

One comment to “Dangerous toilets”

  1. Comment by Catherine:

    Thank you so much for flaggind this important issue!! I appreciate the Blair toilet. Really l do. When faced with a situation where there are no toilets at all especially at household level, they can be only option. HOWEVER- I strongly believe that Blair toilets have no place in schools where hundreds and hundreds of children are condemned to use what quickly become unsanitary holes in the ground. A lot of times children (and adults) resort to going behind the pit toilet to use the bush. How sanitary is it when barefooted children enter these latrines whose floors are littered with urine and faecal matter? How sanitary is it to have putrid, germ infested air blowing into your privates as you squat? It is not!

    My objection however is not just on the basis of the unsanitary conditions of these cesspools. My objecton is based on the ideological basis of this innovation. I strongly believe that underpinning the thinking around the Blair toilet, is the fact that black Africans do not deserve better. International agencies can pet themselves on the back and say we have provided sanitation to hundreds/thousands of “poor” African children by digging pit latrines. Why, at a school, where you are supposed to impart good standards of hygiene and cleaniliness do we subject children to such deplorable conditions?

    There might have been a time when this was justifiable, but so many years after independence, can we still justify pit latrines at our schools and hospitals? Why do we have such low standards? What are we teaching our children? That they do not deserve better? What possible constraints justify this? If someone is going to build a whole school, why should they not properly plan for good toilets?

    The plight of girls in rural schools is even worse. Research has shown that once they reach puberty, girls start missing school. Poverty forces them to use clothes and rags during their menses. Poverty forces them to wash and reuse these rags – they cannot afford proper sanitary wear. Now a clever man somewhere designed and built a blair toilet which does not have provision for this girl to change her soiled rag and wash it so that she can put it away for reuse. Is she changes it and puts it away somewhere, then she is likely to spend the day reeking of rotten meat. If she does not change her soiled rag, then she runs the risk of spoiling her dress and being riduculed by all and sundry- a fate worse than death for adult women and young girls alike! This leaves a girl with no option but to miss school for the 5 days to 1 week that she has her menstrual period. Every month. These days add up. Soon this girl is lagging behind in her school work and failing. Soon the parents decide she is a waste of money. That’s the end. All because people have not thought to provide proper sanitation facilities for both girls and boys in our schools. It’s criminal!